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Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

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Streetsblog USA
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St. Louis Stunner Runs Away With the Vote for America’s Sorriest Bus Stop

This bus stop in the St. Louis suburb of Lindbergh was the overwhelming favorite for sorriest bus stop. Photo: NextSTL

This bus stop in the St. Louis suburb of Lindbergh was the overwhelming favorite for sorriest bus stop. Image via NextSTL

In the end, it was never even close. This bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in suburban St. Louis won wire-to-wire in the voting for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America.

There was plenty of worthy competition, but something stood out about this stick in the ground next to what seems to be a divided highway. The only thing marking the stop is a single, lonely signpost — no sidewalk, no bench, and not much in the way of destinations.

The stop is actually an important connection point, as a spokesperson from St. Louis Metro Transit explained in the comments (we confirmed that it was in fact Metro):

The stop is on Lindbergh, a major north-south artery. The speed limit is 40 MPH in that section (it is not a freeway.) The overpass you see in the photo is Page Avenue, a major east-west artery. Vehicles use exit ramps to make the connection between the two streets, but there is no safe way for pedestrians to cross between Page and Lindbergh. So, the Page bus leaves Page Avenue, drops people off at that bus stop who need to transfer to the Lindbergh bus, and then returns to Page. It looks odd, but serves an important purpose.

Metro spokesperson Patti Beck added: “We do need to help our customers get to where they need to go and there is no pedestrian infrastructure along those two major roads.” She said the agency tries to work with municipalities in its service area to ensure there is proper pedestrian infrastructure when possible.

Indeed, the lion’s share of the blame doesn’t lie with Metro, but with the public officials and agencies who have created such a far-flung, high-speed street network. Transit, walking, and amenities for bus passengers are afterthoughts.

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RPA: Growing Outer Boroughs Need New Generation of Transit Investment

Subways, focused on service to and from the Manhattan core, have seen a 23 percent ridership boost since 2003. Over the same period, bus ridership, which forms the backbone of outer-borough transit, has fallen 6 percent. Image: RPA [PDF]

Subways, focused on service to and from the Manhattan core, have seen a 23 percent ridership boost since 2003. Over the same period, bus ridership, the backbone of outer-borough transit, has fallen 7 percent — even though population and jobs in the outer boroughs are growing at a faster rate than in Manhattan. Image: RPA

With the boroughs outside Manhattan adding people and jobs faster than the city core, New York needs to reorient its transit priorities, argues the Regional Plan Association in a new report. The authors warn that increasing travel in the other boroughs will strain the local bus system and lead more people to drive, causing more traffic congestion and imposing the burden of car ownership on more low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

This trend is already apparent. You could call it a tale of two trips.

Trips to and from the Manhattan core are shifting away from cars, with almost 90 percent of commuters to jobs below 60th Street arriving by transit. Subways, the backbone of the network into and out of Manhattan, have seen ridership increase 23 percent since 2003. Major projects are underway to extend subways and commuter rail serving the Manhattan central business district.

By comparison, transit trips that don’t begin or end in Manhattan are slower and less convenient, and they’re getting worse.

While the region may be centered around the Manhattan core, the lives of many New Yorkers are not: 61 percent of NYC workers who live outside Manhattan also work outside Manhattan. Over the last two decades, the number of jobs in the other boroughs has grown twice as fast as Manhattan-based jobs. At the same time, buses — the workhorse of outer-borough travel — have seen ridership fall 7 percent since 2003.

To avoid a future of even more sluggish transit and congested streets, RPA suggests new rail connections, more Bus Rapid Transit lines, and improving access to existing commuter rail service for city residents.

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Bus Rapid Transit, Not Ferry Subsidies, Would Help Struggling New Yorkers

Image: EDC [PDF]

Per rider, ferries need significantly higher subsidies than subways or local buses. Image: EDC [PDF]

In today’s State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio returned to his signature campaign issues of affordability and equity. Focusing mainly on housing, the mayor outlined a plan for growth centered around transit-accessible neighborhoods, and he recommitted to building several new Bus Rapid Transit routes.

But de Blasio missed the mark with his big new transit initiative — a subsidized ferry system. Dollar for dollar, ferries are just not an effective way to spend public money to improve transit options for low-income New Yorkers.

“If we are going to have affordable housing, how are we going to help people get around? What’s the role of transportation in making sure that people have access to opportunity and connecting to where the jobs are all over the five boroughs?” the mayor asked. “Well, we thought about that.”

De Blasio said rides on the new ferry system will cost no more than a MetroCard swipe when it launches in 2017. The system will receive $55 million from the city and serve neighborhoods including Astoria and the Rockaways in Queens, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Soundview in the Bronx, according to DNAinfo.

“Ferries will be affordable to everyday New Yorkers, just like our subways and buses,” de Blasio said, adding that the ferries will help revitalize commercial corridors near their outer-borough landings.

This sounds great, until you look at how much ferries cost and how many people they would serve compared to better buses and trains.

Even with fares at $3.50 per ride, running ferries from Pier 11 to the Rockaways last year required a subsidy of nearly $30 per rider, according to the Economic Development Corporation. In part, that was because its limited schedule failed to attract much ridership. The more centrally-located East River Ferry has more ridership and a better schedule, but still had a slightly higher per-rider subsidy than bus service in 2013, on top of its $4 fare [PDF]. Dropping the fare to match the bus and subway would likely require additional subsidies.

Even the popular Staten Island Ferry, which is free and has frequent service, had a per-rider subsidy in 2011 more than three times higher than local MTA buses, and more than 10 times higher than the subway [PDF].

The role that ferries can play in the transportation system is limited by the accessibility of waterfront sites and the difficulty of connecting to other transit services. The East River Ferry maxed out at a daily average of 4,000 weekday riders and 6,000 weekend riders in 2013. 

There’s also a disconnect between most of the areas the ferries would serve and the transit needs of low-income neighborhoods. A better way to spend those subsidies to help struggling New Yorkers would be to bolster Bus Rapid Transit improvements across the boroughs.

De Blasio did mention Bus Rapid Transit in the speech, recommitting to his campaign promise to bring the city’s BRT network to a total of 20 routes by the end of his first term. The pace of expansion will have to speed up considerably to hit that target. So far, the administration has cut the ribbon on just one new Select Bus Service route, with a handful of additional routes in the planning stages.

A coalition of groups backing expanded BRT, including the Working Families Party, the Pratt Center for Community Development, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Riders Alliance, issued statements thanking the mayor for commitment to BRT. City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez also promised to hold a hearing on the future of BRT in New York and the mayor’s plans.

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Streetsblog USA
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Man Walks 21 Miles to Commute Each Day Because of Detroit’s Awful Transit

A piece in the Detroit Free Press about 56-year-old factory worker James Robertson and his 21-mile round-trip walking commute to the Detroit suburbs is going viral this week. It is both an amazing story of individual perseverance and a scathing indictment of a failing transportation system.

Robertson’s total commute is actually a 46-mile round-trip, split between different buses and a marathon walk. He has been taking this route to reach his job in Rochester Hills from his home in Detroit since his Honda Accord died 10 years ago, he told the Detroit Free Press. Baldwin can’t afford a new car on the wages from his $10-an-hour job.

Despite this formidable obstacle, Robertson has never missed a day of work. “I can’t imagine not working,” he told the paper.

Readers from around the country who were inspired by Robertson’s story have raised $72,000 for him (at the time we published), more than enough to get a car. But a crowdfunded car can’t help everyone who’s in a similar situation in Detroit.

CeCe Grant, executive director of Americans for Transit, says Robertson’s situation is “partially by cruel design.” Detroit’s suburban bus system, SMART, allows municipalities to “opt-out.” That “has always sported a sharp cultural edge, because it nudges up against the notion that some communities don’t want ‘those people,’ be they Detroiters or blacks or bus riders, coming through their locales,” she said. “Because Rochester Hills doesn’t participate in SMART, Robertson must walk the last seven miles of his journey to work — after taking a SMART bus as far as it can reach into Oakland County.”

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Streetsblog USA
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Help Streetsblog Find the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Atlanta's Buford Highway, via ATL Urbanist.

Atlanta’s Buford Highway, via ATL Urbanist

It’s contest time again, and competition is going to be stiff for this one. After handing out a Streetsie award for the best street transformation in America at the end of 2014, we’re going to do some good old public shaming this time: Help us find the most neglected, dangerous, and all around sorriest bus stop in the United States.

Most bus stops don’t amount to much more than a stick in the ground. No shelter, no schedule, and nowhere to sit. Better bus stops would mean people could walk to transit without taking their life in their hands, and that transit riders could wait for the bus with dignity. This contest will provide definitive evidence that transit agencies and DOTs have to do a lot better.

The above example comes from Atlanta’s notorious Buford Highway, where pedestrian infrastructure of all types has been completely neglected in favor of wide open asphalt.

It will be hard to top the example below, however. That’s an actual bus stop in Cleveland. The only indication is a very small RTA logo under the highway sign for 71 South (you might have to zoom in to actually spot it). What exactly people are supposed to do when they get off the bus here is unclear, but it’s a sorry statement about how seriously Ohio DOT takes bus riders’ needs.

This is an actual bus stop in Cleveland. We swear. Image: Google Maps via Tim Kovach

An actual bus stop in Cleveland. We swear. Image: Google Maps via Tim Kovach

If there’s an awful bus stop where you live, send us your pictures of it along with a written description of the context, and we’ll put the worst up to a popular vote. You can leave an entry in the comments or email it to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

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Cuomo’s LaGuardia Train Would Be Slower Than Existing Transit

When it comes to travel times, Cuomo’s proposed LaGuardia AirTrain wouldn’t fare well compared to existing bus and subway service. Graph: The Transportation Politic

When it comes to travel times, Cuomo’s proposed LaGuardia AirTrain wouldn’t fare well compared to existing bus and subway service. Graph: The Transport Politic

The centerpiece of Governor Cuomo’s second-term transportation agenda for New York City isn’t closing the $15 billion gap in the MTA capital program or taking serious steps to relieve the city from suffocating traffic. Instead, Cuomo’s big idea is a new rail link to LaGuardia Airport.

The idea captivated the Times and distracted from the meat of Cuomo’s proposals, which mostly involve subsidizing highways and bridges so Thruway tolls don’t go up. But it won’t make it any faster to get to LaGuardia without driving, writes Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic.

As difficult as it can be to get to LaGuardia now, Freemark says Cuomo’s AirTrain proposal — which would run along public rights-of-way between the airport and the 7 train at Willets Point — would have longer travel times than existing transit routes from most parts of the city. “As proposed, the project would do next to nothing to improve access to the airport,” he writes.

Freemark’s analysis, which he summarized in the above chart, finds that the Cuomo AirTrain would offer no improvement over current transit service for travelers heading from the airport to Grand Central, Penn Station (except via the LIRR on Mets game days, when trip times would be slightly faster than today), the World Trade Center, Borough Hall/Jay Street, and Jamaica. Travel times to the South Bronx (Yankee Stadium) would be nearly twice as long as existing options. If you happen to live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Willets Point AirTrain connection, then you might save some time.

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Streetsblog USA
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Transit and Equity Advocate Stephanie Pollack to Lead MassDOT

Stephanie Pollack was one of the first transportation experts who made a serious impression on me. A few weeks after I started working at Streetsblog, at my first Rail~volution conference, she gave a presentation on the complex relationship between transit, gentrification, and car ownership. Her energy, intellectual rigor, and passion for social justice were apparent in her nuanced work exploring the reasons why car ownership rates tend to rise in neighborhoods with new transit services — and how it hurts not just the transportation system and the environment, but the poor.

Stephanie Pollack, a thought leader on how housing and transportation policy impacts minorities and low-income people, will be the new secretary of MassDOT. Photo: ##http://www.northeastern.edu/news/faculty-experts/stephanie-pollack/##Northeastern##

Stephanie Pollack, a thought leader on how housing and transportation policy affects minorities and low-income people, will be the new secretary of MassDOT. Photo: Northeastern

The person who opened a Rail~volution session on transit and equity with, “I spent a couple of decades as a transit and equity advocate before I went into academia,” has just been named the director of a state department of transportation.

By a Republican governor.

When Streetsblog fretted about what a Charlie Baker victory over Democrat Martha Coakley could mean for transportation, naming such a firebrand as his transportation secretary seemed unthinkable. But perhaps Baker will continue the legacy of moderate Republican Massachusetts governors who care about smart growth.

Or perhaps he was simply impressed by Pollack’s résumé, including her leadership at Northeastern University’s Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and her service on numerous teams and panels to help design city- and statewide public transportation and housing policy.

The Boston Globe’s headline yesterday about Pollack’s nomination read, “Baker names gas tax advocate as transit chief,” noting that “Baker has said he does not plan to raise taxes.” But Pollack’s history is much more interesting than her position on the gas tax.

Her research focuses on the intersection between transportation and equity. How can planners bring transit services into a neighborhood without bringing gentrification along with it? Are all communities equally consulted in the lead-up to major transportation changes? Are higher gas taxes “elitist or equitable”? (You can guess by that Globe headline which side she comes down on. Actually, don’t just guess — this short presentation of her conclusions is worth perusing.)

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Streetsblog USA
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Talking Headways Podcast: The Year Ahead in Transit, With Yonah Freemark

Image: Yonah Freemark, ##http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2015/01/05/openings-and-construction-starts-planned-for-2015/##The Transport Politic##

Graphic: Yonah Freemark/The Transport Politic

Think you’re all caught up on the latest transit news? Listening to Yonah Freemark of the Transport Politic and Jeff Wood of the Overhead Wire (my lovely co-host) geek out on the transit construction projects of 2014 and 2015 is a humbling, and surprisingly energizing, experience.

podcast icon logo

You can prep for this episode by reading Yonah’s seventh annual compendium of “Openings and Construction Starts Planned for 2015,” or you can just hit play right now.

You thought the Oakland airport connector was a good idea just because it’s transit? Get schooled. Didn’t know the country was getting its first car-free bridge just for buses/rail/bikes/peds? Learn about it here. Wondering how escalator length affects subway ridership? Yup, you’ll hear it here first, folks.

With that, I present: Yonah and Jeff on the transit starts of 2014 and 2015.

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Bus Lanes Worked Wonders on East 125th. Now What About the West Side?

On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, bus trips are now a third faster than before. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, transit speeds increased by a third. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Since debuting last year, Select Bus Service on 125th Street has dramatically improved transit speeds, especially on the section with dedicated bus lanes east of Lenox Avenue, according to NYC DOT and the MTA. The results strengthen the case for adding bus lanes west of Lenox, which DOT had scuttled in 2013 in response to resistance from local electeds. With more favorable politics prevailing today, the agency could revive bus lanes for West Harlem and greatly extend the impact of 125th Street SBS.

The improvement in bus service thanks to camera-enforced transit lanes, off-board fare collection, and other SBS features is impressive [PDF]. From end to end, the M60 bus from 110th Street to LaGuardia Airport now travels 11 to 14 percent faster than it did before. On 125th Street between Second and Lenox Avenues, the only part of 125th to receive dedicated bus lanes, the M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster, an improvement that MTA bus planner Evan Bialostozky called “shocking, to even me.”

The M60 isn’t the only route to benefit from the new bus lanes: Local bus trips on the M100 and Bx15 are 7 to 20 percent faster between Second and Lenox.

“That’s helping a lot of people,” Bialostozky told the Community Board 9 transportation committee last Thursday. Crosstown buses on 125th Street serve more than more than 32,000 riders every day. Before the dedicated transit lanes debuted last year, these routes had been among the city’s slowest buses, crawling through traffic and around double-parked cars.

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